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Advances in the life sciences raise the threat that biological agents could be used in an act of bioterrorism or biological warfare.

Writing in the latest issue of Science, Margaret A. Somerville and Ronald M. Atlas propose a code of ethics for life science research as a means of reducing this threat.

In line with the medical profession's Hippocratic Oath, the code highlights the need for life scientists to "first, do no harm". It proposes to limit access to biological agents that could be used as weapons and would encourage researchers to report any activities that they believe could contribute to bioterrorism or biowarfare.

The authors say their code is not a total solution, and that many will oppose it for a variety of reasons, but add that in combination with other efforts, a code of ethics for life scientists would help deter what they call a "grave threat to humanity".

Somerville and Atlas say that ethics is likely to prevail in life science research so long as a small core of voices continues to try to encourage others to work within an ethical framework.

Link to full article in Science

Reference: Science 307, 1881 (2005)

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